Gardening and Poetry

When fall comes to Georgia, I’m usually not in a gardening frame of mind, but this year I followed a lead from Georgia Writer and made the trek to Nightsong Native Plant Nursery.

Behind the containers I planted calla lily bulbs from my mother’s garden in Dahlonega. In the photo you can also see the rosemary bush that’s throwing its weight around like a spiky beast.

I’ve also planted sage, and behind the azalea is a giant patch of lavender that the bees adore.

When it comes to gardening, I plant according to the sun my yard gets, which is mostly dappled light through the giant oaks splaying across the lawn.

Calling my front yard a “lawn” is a bit of a stretch, because it’s mostly weeds. My main strategy has been to plant different ground cover that will reduce the need to mow, but I’ll still have to find a way to remove the leaves from the beds in November/December. I loathe leaf blowers, but at least I have an electric one that isn’t too loud.

My mom also gave me some tiny purple and green leafy plants that I identified as common bugle. In the spring it grows tiny purple flowers. I have some cultivated bugle whose leaves are shiny and lush, and it has grown into enormous clusters.

But since I’ve transplanted my mom’s shoots, I’ve seen tiny bugles dotting the neighborhood, growing like little wildflowers weeds do, freely and with abandon.

I suppose you could say my writing life is like the common bugle or a humble wildflower weed. I plant my little fragments of poetry that live in tattered notebooks until I take notice of them and marvel at a flash of color that deserves some cultivation.

Reading Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss

Reading Frank: Sonnets by Diane Seuss, I recall my life in Athens, Georgia in the early 80s and the punk rock/new wave scene there.

Seuss’s poem, [I can’t say I loved punk when punk was contagious], brought me back to the times my friends and I drove to New York for a weekend to hear our boyfriends open for bigger bands at CBGB, the Mudd Club, and the Peppermint Lounge.

[I can’t say I loved punk when punk was contagious]

Unlike Seuss, I was more of a voyeur of the punk scene, a curious suburban college girl who wanted to graduate from university and study in Spain. For a while, I got sidetracked by punk’s promise of anarchy and rebellious art making, but I never had the need to “escape from punk’s thesis.” That was a forgone conclusion with my conservative, Catholic father hovering in the background of my psyche.

Seuss, raised by a single mother, was the real deal.

The 80’s in Athens at UGA was steeped in systemic misogyny that I bumped up against in my creative life, although at the time, I thought this bumping up was due to my own failures as a writer and human being.

I tried to get into Coleman Barks’s creative writing poetry class, but when I approached him at his office he practically shut the door in my face.

Instead, I tagged along with the boys in the band, read their chapbooks, gathered at their art openings, and attended theater presentations at the Rat and Duck, named for the rats running along the ceiling above and having to duck from falling plaster.

We slam danced and pogoed at the 40 Watt Club, went to parties on Barber Street, and picked through steamy piles of musty clothes dumped in the back of the thrift store.

We had a lot of fun in the early 80’s, but I was an outsider on the periphery of cool, while many of the *boys* were hipper than thou, making pronouncements about art and music as though they were the arbiters of all taste.

I appreciate Diane Seuss’s critique of the New York punk scene, especially her lines:

the rest was the same old white boy song

and dance, unaware of its misogyny and convinced its dangers

were innovational … .

Eight-week Writing Goals and Keeping Score

It’s the first day of September and back-to-school season. Even though I retired from teaching, I’m filled with that back-to-school determination to make a fresh start with my writing practice and to take my art making more seriously.

It’s also Virgo season, a time for ordering my little universe of precarious stacks of books heaped all over my writing/yoga/study/art room.

On her blog Write More, Be Less Careful, poet and writing professor Nancy Reddy is starting an eight-week program (free!) to help writers like me accomplish and produce more.

Our task for this week is to set quantifiable and qualifiable goals.

Here are mine:

  • Write for twenty minutes a day every day in the mornings, BEFORE I do the NYT Spelling Bee because I’m too obsessive to stop before I reach *genius* level, which can take over an hour unless I cheat, which I sometimes do.
  • Read poetry and poetry-related articles every day, rather than newspapers and magazines. As William Carlos Williams says in his poem “Asphodel, that greeny flower,”

It is difficult

to get the news from poems

yet men die miserably every day

for lack

of what is found there.

  • Commit to writing one blog post a week. This practice will keep me accountable, even if no one else reads what I write, and since I truly enjoy writing, it’s not a chore but rather a delight.
Doodle of Red with diary entry about gardening without gloves and tearing blisters.

Altered Books for Altered States

I found this book, along with some others from the 1860s and 70s, in a pile at the back of a closet, and now I’m altering it as a form of therapy.

This book is aimed at “the farmer’s boy” and “the humblest clerk”

It’s also a way to play, to discover, and to stay curious. What strange repetition of images and contexts will I find? What is this found poem trying to say say to me?

In my mind there’s an emotional context that a reader might not experience, but it doesn’t matter. We make our meaning of it as the moment happens. The reader finds their own meaning, and the drawings add another layer.

It’s very restorative, the process of finding poems. It’s a moment I can dip into over and over, pour m’amuse.

The nutsy granola, aging-hippie in me chafes at the book’s intended purpose and audience, which is to introduce young, working class men to “polite society,” to help them polish off the rough edges and give them a boost in status.

But it also is fun to leaf through it to read the party tricks they teach, which all rely on word games or versions magic tricks such as “the three matches.”

Press and Bindery of Historical Publishing Company, Philadelphia
I hope I’m not scandalizing the librarians and antiquarians out there by marking up this book
I did this one on the plane coming home from Chicago

#alteredbook #poetry #artheals #blackout poetry #erasurepoetry

Erasure Poems and the Pandemic

Wuthering 111
a found tarot reading

you seek the garden
a place where
the wind will inform you
you are acquainted with
a tempest of passion
Wuthering 111

My trip to the library in April for an outdoor community poetry workshop has continued to inspire me.

As many evenings as possible, I get out my work bag full of scraps of text from the librarian’s packet, and I begin to search for poems.

While I skim the text, I also allow my feelings to make themselves known, and lately what comes to the surface is worry about what some people close to my heart are going through, especially as we are nearing the end of the pandemic.

I also feel the strain of resistance. Four years of resisting the tyrant, starting with the Women’s March in 2017 and the activism I engaged in through demonstrations and letter writing. My body has aches and pains all over from holding stress.

I make collage art and found poems with watercolors and Mod Podge. My little chapbooks are therapeutic for processing my journey through this tunnel of time.

April Erasure Poem

April

My enormously generous and gifted friend Georgia Writer [my name for her on this blog], invited me to an actual community poetry workshop and open mic, in person!

This declaration warrants an exclamation point considering I read two new poems as well as an erasure poem that Georgia Writer guided us to write. I got so emotionally charged during the outdoor reading that I grew flustered and tripped over the mic cord on my way back to the seating area.

Of course, I warned everyone that I had retired from teaching this year and have been pretty much in lock down since Thanksgiving. I’ve barely seen my own family members, including my 81-year old mother, who, I’m grateful to say, is very healthy because of an active lifestyle, good fortune, and lots of time outdoors in the garden and on trails.

Georgia Writer is a longtime university librarian, poet, and natural historian, a true polymath. Several years ago, when I visited her university office, it was like entering a cabinet of curiosities: sculptures, drawings, birds’ nests, wasp nests, animal skeletons, plants and plants and plants under lights and in terrariums. Of course, there were towers of books everywhere, and yes, she really does read them all.

In the past, she has bequeathed me older but still completely gorgeous poetry journals. She has also inspired my love of making books by giving me decorative paper scraps from former poetry chapbooks she has hand sewn and designed through her poetry press, La Vita Poetica. I still have the paper she gave me even after sharing the bounty with summer camp kids and my own art projects.

I admire her so much and consider her to be a poetry and art mentor. Her own poetry is some of the most beautiful poetry I’ve read. Although not a strict formalist, Georgia Writer’s craft of poetry is sublime.

The librarians provided packets with post-its sharpies, and pages of old magazines or discarded books–– the one that caught my eye was from a Victorian garden periodical. My packet came with a green sharpie, which struck me as an instance of synchronicity, so I went to town with the green.

G.Writer gave a brief lecture on surrealism and Dada, and then we created a spontaneous exquisite corpse, the only constraint being that half of us began our lines with “Either” and the other half with “Or.” Our collective poem became so beautiful as we uttered our phrases and images into the dome of blue sky above.

A full pink moon rose over the tree line as I drove home.

 

Foxes, Archetypes, and Escape

Lately I’ve been thinking about foxes. While walking my dog Red through the neighborhood, we saw (or smelled from Red’s point of view) a fox sunning itself in the middle of the street with a carefree attitude. It lifted its hind leg to scratch an ear as we approached. The mail carrier driving by said he sees that fox and others regularly in different parts of the neighborhood.

A large tract of farmland adjacent to our suburban street was sold a few years ago. A sizable woodland was plowed over and turned into another subdivision, so many of the animals that used to live there have had to migrate. In the last week or so I’ve encountered, wild turkeys, coyotes, Canada geese, mallard ducks, and now, this fox.

My good friend, probably the one friend who has helped me the most to get through this pandemic in a creative and soulful way, taught a few of us how to draw a fox, and as usual, I combined my drawing with words and images inspired from archetype decks.

Fox as shapeshifter, shaman, an elusive, cunning, trickster
A more traditional fox combined with the archetype “Myth”

In western folktales, the fox is often depicted as the villain who violates the hen house, or else the concept is applied to women as “foxy ladies” in songs.

I’ve read a bit about the Japanese tales of the kitsune, and a while back I wrote this poem below that incorporates one of kitsune stories. It doesn’t feel like a finished piece to me, and I’ve since poached lines from it to include in other poems, but it does speak to a certain desire I’ve always had to journey on my own, to enter the wilderness of the world as a solo entity without protection from the structures of society.

The Fox Wife Leaves Her Husband a Note On the Kitchen Table

How to explain this need to flee our home.
She might have entered the half-moons of my fingernails
Or could it be that, when I unzipped my human sheath
To find her in my body, she had always lived here.
When the dog bared its teeth and growled
You laughed it off, but she, the one inside me,
Stopped eating. Sleepless, she stares
At the silhouette of pine branches under the moonlight,
blue-black fan of needles on the hard snow.
I've asked her not to leave, this fox inside me,
but once a dog bites, it doesn’t forget the taste of blood. I’ve left milk and rice for you and the boy.
Remember to make a paste of his meat before you feed him.
One night, I might return, if the vixen in me desires.

Plant People, Watercolors, and Escape

I’ve learned a bit more about using watercolors from London Drawing Group and their wildly brilliant series, A Feminist’s Guide to Botany.

Also, I’m still riding a wave of inspiration from December 2020 and their web event titled, A Surrealist Saturnalia Solstice.

It was a delightfully pagan evening with automatic writing to paintings by Magritte and Dorothea Tanning. The teaching artists wore horns, which I loved. We took inspiration from Max Ernst’s paintings of plants turning into birds with muscled arms.

Drawing at sunset on a still cool spring evening. Such a balm to immerse myself in fantasy, to tell stories to myself about plant people among the trees, bringing them to life while sipping a Juneshine, listening to Ella Fitzgerald and the birds.

Plant people cavorting at sunset. View from my back porch

A goddess bathes her hands and face in butterfly waves

A goddess of nature bathes her hands and face in butterfly waves

Starting in January of 2021, I joined Daily Sketch, a Zoom drawing class that meets three days a week.

The teaching artist is Meagan Burns, who, in the before times, led art workshops in Mexico and other places around the globe.

My friend discovered these daily sketch classes last year, and her enthusiasm for the experience motivated me to try my hand at watercolor sketches myself.

Meagan is a patient and upbeat instructor. She allows light banter during our warm ups, and after each 20 minute sketch, she gives us time to share our drawings. She asks where we started, what materials we used, and at the end shows us her work and how she approached the subject.

The drawing I posted above is a combination of two references, a photo of two hands opened up like a book, and another of a large butterfly that looked like it was superimposed with a layer of neon pink.

Since my drawing skills are limited at best, I always add an element of imagination to camouflage mistakes I make or to get my ego out of the way.

I love surrealism and the techniques the surrealists used to jettison conditioned thinking about art and to let chance operations and stream of consciousness come to the foreground.

So if I make a mistake with the lines, I go with the mistake and improvise with color or context. Then my imagination takes off and I start musing about scenarios and settings that are based in myth or folklore.

The poet Anne Sexton is known to have experimented with her typing mistakes by keeping them in the poem and allowing them to change the direction of her writing. In this way, I can see how my playing with watercolor sketches influences how I write and the kinds of poems I hope to create in April.

Pandemic, Pandemonium, Panic, and Poetry

Crystals, flowers, and fear

The word “pandemic” derives from the Greek words “pan,” meaning “all” and “demos,” meaning “people.”

The etymology of “pandemic” is different but somewhat related to the word “panic,’ which traces back to the French, “panique” and the Greek god Pan, the deity with goat legs, the torso of a man, and goat horns growing from his man-like skull.

According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, Pan became an exceedingly popular god whose name soldiers invoked in the heat of battle. Later, the terror and chaos that arises during war was also associated with this god.

During Roman times, Pan increased in importance, becoming “known as the All, a sort of universal god, which was a play on the other meaning of the word pan.

My husband, a medical news journalist, began covering daily coronavirus reports the last week in January, after our return from the Palm Beach Poetry Festival.

By mid February, we saw how the virus was spreading like a panic. February 18, the stock market crashed in a virus-related scare, and I began to wonder if AWP would be canceled. But at that point I thought it would be fear mongering to ask my friends if they still planned to go.

Two weeks later, the conference went ahead as planned, but by late February and even into the first week of March, many of my friends decided not to go because they didn’t want to inadvertently bring the virus back to their own communities.

It wasn’t until the first week in March that the pandemic arrived in the county where I live. That week we were already doing “chicken wings” and “foot bumps” as greetings at the yoga studio where I practice. We were spacing ourselves at least six feet apart. The YMCA where I swim laps closed its group exercise programs, swimming lessons, and their child care hours.

The new coronavirus pandemic has also caused pandemonium, Latin for “the place of all demons.” It created “panic buying” among the people, as we raced to stores to buy cleaning supplies, hand sanitizer, and pantry items.

On Thursday, March 5, I pulled into a Trader Joe’s parking lot after a blissful yoga class. Even under ordinary circumstances, it’s inadvisable to enter a Trader Joe’s parking lot after practicing yoga, just because of the parking lot squeeze.

But I braved suburban car frenzy to buy some wine and a few other items for dinner, and was shocked to find almost the entire store depleted of bread, milk, frozen food, and staples like rice, pasta, and canned goods. (Plenty of beer and wine remained!)

It turned out that while I had been supine in savasana in a state of relaxation, the county school system had announced that schools would close and would transfer to an online platform.

One man in the county had been hospitalized and died, and several school staff members had come down with covid19. Apparently, many individuals had traveled to Italy during February and thus were exposed at airports or at their destinations.

Like “pandemic,” and “panic,” the word “poetry” comes to English from the Greek and Latin. Greeks used poesis and poeitis to denote a maker, an author, a poet.

We are all makers now. We are pan-artists. Some will make songs and stories to express their longings, their fears, their loneliness,

Others will bake bread, make yogurt, and grow gardens, domestic work that many have now recently embraced if they have the privilege of staying home.

I’ve written only two poems so far this month. The concept of April as poetry writing month has lost urgency for me. Poetry and art and all forms of myth-making and meaning-making are a means of spiritual survival now. It’s an ongoing practice that continually renews and sustains me.

Yoga, poetry, painting, long walks, and chopping vegetables are my way of loving the world and loving life. I hope all beings everywhere can look within and find what makes them whole, what heals them.